Friday, October 30, 2015

Enjoying Classical Music With Maestro Classics' The Nutcracker {A TOS Review}

Maestro Classics Review
We had the opportunity to review the newest release from Maestro Classics recently thanks to the Schoolhouse Review Crew. My husband and I were thrilled to receive The Nutcracker, adapted by Stephen Simon. We were excited that we were going to get to share this classic with our children. 

This isn't our first time reviewing a product from Maestro Classics. Last year we were grateful to be able to listen to two of their other CD's: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel plus Casey at the Bat. These "Stories in Music" are great to listen to in the van on long trips or to have on in the background at home. The music for these wonderful productions is composed and conducted by Stephen Simon. The music is performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra while being narrated by Jim Weiss. 

Like the other CD's we received from Maestro Classics, The Nutcracker is stored in a tri-fold CD case. In the center section there is an activity booklet. Maestro Classics also provides additional educational material on their website. 

The Nutcracker is different than the other Maestro Classics CD's we have listened to. This is a musical production which has the narrated story added to it, while the others are stories that have had music added to them to help tell the story. This 58 minute production begins with the 1 1/2 minute overture which is also the introduction by Jim Weiss. He explains who wrote The Nutcracker story and the music, along with what the story is about. We then move into the rest of the production. 

The Nutcracker is a story that takes place at Christmastime. When the story begins, young Clara and her brother Fritz are excited about the Christmas party that is about to start. The narrator draws the listener into the story with wonderful descriptions of the tree and the decorations. We follow along as Clara and her brother play with the other children and eagerly await the arrival of Herr Drosselmeyer, the master toy maker and magician whose gifts are always so wonderful. This year he has brought life-sized dolls that move and dance. He then gives a trumpet to Fritz and a toy soldier nutcracker doll to Clara. Unfortunately, Fritz becomes jealous of Clara's nutcracker doll which leads to it being broken. Thankfully, Herr Drosselmeyer is able to fix it. Clara then lays it in a doll be to heal. The party is then over and they head to bed. 

Suddenly there is a magical transformation and the tree and all of the toys begin to grow, along with some mice that Clara had heard scurrying about. A battle ensues between the mice led by the Mouse King and the toy soldiers. The Nutcracker helps defeat the evil mice and then turns into a handsome prince who leads Clara into the moonlit, snowy land. We are introduced to the Snow King and Snow Queen and hear the Waltz of the Snowflakes. While in the Land of the Sweets, Clara (and the listener) is treated to several different performances. The Sugar Plum Fairy tells them that there will be a celebration of the Nutcracker's triumph of the mice. Several different dances are enjoyed before Clara must return home, left to wonder if it was real or all a dream. 

Listening to this CD sure did bring back memories for me. I recognized some of the musical selections I have enjoyed for years, though I wasn't sure which part of The Nutcracker they were from, until now that is. I figured out the names of my favorite selections: The Dance of the Reed Pipes and the Waltz of the Flowers. The addition of the narration was a wonderful help in understanding what was going on in the story. Not only did the narrator explain the different parts of the story and describe the dancing, he helped to understand different ballet terms. With the combination of the music and the narration we were able to picture the story in our minds. Though the narration is wonderful, I was glad that there wasn't storytelling going on during the entire CD. There are times when we are just listening and allowed to enjoy the music (after being told what is going on in that particular scene). 

As I mentioned, in addition to the CD, there is an 24-page activity book included. Each of the scenes are listed (which don't actually line up exactly with the tracks on the CD I discovered). We are then treated to a few articles: The History of Ballet, The Harp, and Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky. The musical notes for the Overture are included, for those who are musically inclined. Then there are some activities for the children: a Word Scramble and a Crossword Puzzle. The Word Scramble was a bit too tricky, but they were able to figure out most of the Crossword Puzzle by working together. 

Additionally, you can further your child's education with Maestro Classics by utilizing their Curriculum Guides. These are unit studies revolving around each story. There are lessons with interactive links for the following subjects: Ballet, History & Geography, Science, Language Arts, Art, Music, and Math. I can see us taking a couple of weeks off of our usual lessons in December to focus on The Nutcracker using these lessons. 

We loved this production of The Nutcracker. Having a narrator tell the story was fantastic, and Jim Weiss does a superb job. We were able to visualize the scenes, the characters, and the dancing. Speaking of dancing, the children also enjoyed dancing around to the music. The music was wonderful to listen to. 

The one thing that surprised me, was that this CD didn't have the educational content that the other CD's we have listened to do. With both of the other stories, we listened to the story set to music and then we learned something about the author, the story and the music. After we had the music lesson, we then listened to the story again in the hopes that the lesson would help us notice details we hadn't noticed the first time. I understand that the performance in and of itself is almost an hour long, but I would have still liked to have some sort of music lesson included. 

This CD was enjoyed by the entire family, though the children didn't focus on it the entire time. It is suitable for 5 years old and up, including adults of course. Now that we know the details of what is going on in the story, I think the children would be able to better enjoy a performance of the ballet, if we can ever get the chance to attend or view one. I definitely recommend The Nutcracker from Maestro Classics for your listening pleasure. 

You can find Maestro Classics on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube

My fellow Crew Mates were able to choose between The Nutcracker and Peter and the Wolf for this review. You can click on the banner below to read their reviews. 

Maestro Classics Review
Crew Disclaimer

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Throwback Thursday Blog-Style #71: October 29, 2015

Welcome back to... 

I know, I know, Throwback Thursday seems to be all about sharing pictures from the past, great memories that mean something to you, that you would like to share with others. At least that is how it appears to me. Throwback Thursday wasn't something I was participating in, and then I came up with an idea.

I thought it would be great fun and a help to my blog to share old content, but not just any old content. Each week I will share an old blog post from a previous year, any year, BUT it has to be from the current week (for example, something I've posted around October 29th, from any previous year)  I will go in, edit the post if needed, add a pinnable image if I don't already have one, and share it on Facebook.

I have reviewed some great products in the past (and continue to do so). I thought it would be a neat idea to choose review posts this year and highlight some of these great products again.

Would you like to join in? You do not need to edit your past post in any way, you don't need to create a pinnable image, though it couldn't hurt, in fact it will help your blog traffic to add quality pinnable images to your posts.

Just go into your archives, choose a favorite post from this current week from any previous year, and link it up below. 

I will be pinning posts to my appropriate Pinterest boards and will be randomly selecting a Featured Throwback Thursday post to share next week. Just a note, I will be sharing a picture from your post if you are selected as the featured post, but I will link back to your post. I will ALWAYS give credit and link back. By linking up you are giving me permission to use your picture in the post. 

Here is my Throwback Thursday post:

Here is this week's randomly selected
Featured Throwback Thursday:

Brenda from Counting Pinecones shared:

To participate, link up below. It would be great if you could visit several of the other posts that have linked up. Stop by, comment, and pin images so we can help each other.

If you would like to help spread the news:

Tots and Me
Happy Throwback Thursday!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Focusing on Spelling with Phonetic Zoo from the Institute for Excellence in Writing {A TOS Review}

IEW Phonetic Zoo
We had the opportunity to review Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A [Starter Set] from the Institute for Excellence in Writing.  This was my first time reviewing a product from this company, but I have been hearing such great things about them. I was thrilled that Tabitha was old enough to try out this spelling program. There was a Spelling Placement Test that she had to take, and she was right on the borderline of being ready for this program. She showed interest in it, so I decided to give it a shot. I have to say, I am very glad I did. 

I was intrigued by the fact that this is an auditory program that doesn't use workbooks. Personally, I always thought workbooks were fun and my children enjoy them in various subjects. However, it is explained why workbooks don't work for a spelling program, and why so many children are struggling with spelling these days. The auditory input from the CD's helps a child to receive the information sequentially which is the way it needs to be retrieved in order to spell correctly. When you see spelling words already spelled out you can't NOT see them all at once. Which is why it is so easy to mix up the letters. Workbooks have a child playing with words, but they aren't getting a chance to hear them spelled.
Let's take a look at what is included in the Phonetic Zoo Spelling program. We received the Level A Starter Set which includes:
  • 5 CD's which are stored in a hard CD case
  • MP3 downloads of the same lessons found on the CD's
  • Set of large lesson cards
  • Set of small Zoo cards
  • Downloadable Phonetic Zoo Teacher's Notes
  • Link to the online Spelling and the Brain Video Seminar
We also received:
  • MP3 download for Spelling and the Brain Audio
  • MP3 download for Nurturing Competent Communicators Audio
  • Phonetic Zoo Level A zip file
The CD's we received are only for Level A. One of the great things about this program is, once you purchase the starter set, you don't have to purchase the full set of the next level to move on. All you have to do is buy the next set of CD's.  

You will also require a CD player, computer, or something to play the CDs or MP3 files. It is highly recommended that the child use headphones during their lesson time to minimize distractions and get the words close to the ear and brain. The final necessary supplies are a pen and paper. Yes, that does say pen, not pencil. There is a reason for this, and you can read about it in this article that I found highly thought provoking.

The large lesson cards include the lists of words for all three levels.  On the front of each card you will find 2-3 pictures of animals that help to demonstrate the spelling rule/jingle. There are also 3 sample words for each level.  On the back of the card you will find the rule/jingle/hint in a box on the left hand side. This gives the child a mnemonic device to help them remember the rule. Next to the box there are three columns with the lists of spelling words. These cards have a hole punched in the left hand corner in case you wish to put them on a ring. I decided to store them in the plastic bag they came with, so I haven't been too concerned about using a ring. 

These smaller, playing card sized cards are the ones that a child gets to keep and display. On the front of the card is listed the lesson number, the spelling rule that is being focused on during the lesson, and the pictures of the animals that demonstrate the rule. The back of the card has the rule/hint/jingle written out again. It is recommended to give each card to the child at the start of the lesson. I, however, have been giving Tabitha hers at the end of the lesson as sort of a reward. 

Every fifth lesson is a Personal Spelling Lesson where the child will focus on words that you as the parent choose from misspelled words in writing assignments. The large card has lines on which you can write the spelling words. 

Each disc contains 18 or 19 tracks, for a total of 47 lessons and the final exams. Along with an introduction, disc 1 contains 8 lessons plus the 2 personal spelling lessons. Each of the lessons are divided into two tracks. The first track is the "test" which the child repeats until achieving a 100% twice in a row. The second track for the lesson contains the corrections that the child is to listen to in order to check their work. Discs 2-4 each contain 8 lessons along with the correction tracks for each, and the two personal spelling lessons. The final disc, disc 5, contains 6 lessons and 6 correction tracks plus 1 personal spelling lesson, and 6 tracks that focus on the final exam.

The 70 page Teacher's Manual begins with some introductory information. The link to the video "Spelling and the Brain" is provided. Then you will discover the following sections:
  • How does The Phonetic Zoo teach spelling?
  • How to use the program
  • A Brief History of the Blended Sound-Sight Program. 
In this section you will also discover how it got the name "The Phonetic Zoo."

The bulk of the book is made up of the notes the teacher/parent needs to teach each lesson. There are discussion points as well as the lists of words for each level. You will also find a bit of fun trivia or a challenge and a list of 3 sample words. In the back of the book you will find the 7 appendixes. They are:
  • Student Spelling Test Sheet
  • Phonetic Zoo Placement Test
  • Six Syllable Types
  • Personal Spelling Lesson Alternatives
  • 240 Commonly Misspelled Words
  • A Zoo for the Zoo Cards
  • Spelling Poster Print Outs
How did we use Phonetic Zoo?

When we first started I pulled out the lesson card for lesson 1 and went over the words and jingle with Tabitha. She then took it upstairs to her bedroom so she could have privacy. For each lesson she listens to the lesson track. The teacher says the word, uses it in a sentence and then pauses briefly for the child to write the word on her paper. If necessary, Tabitha does have permission to pause the CD so she can finish writing the word. Once all of the words have been written Tabitha is to move on to the correction track. The words will then be listed one at a time. The teacher on the CD reads the word, spells it, and again says the word. If any word is wrong, the correct spelling is written down by Tabitha. This actually is a wonderful program for a child to work independently most of the time. 

I did discover, after we were into the program a bit, that I could spend more time with Tabitha on the spelling list before she goes off on her own to take the test. So, yes, a child can work independently; however, they really do still need to be taught and have supervision.  I was giving Tabitha the zoo cards to tape onto a piece of card stock as we didn't have any poster board to make the zoo. We recently purchased some poster board and I am in the process of creating the zoo as illustrated in the back of the Teacher's Manual. The reason for organizing them this way is addressed in the Spelling and the Brain seminar. One of the things that helps with spelling is categorizing the words. 

It is very important to watch the Spelling and the Brain seminar because he really does a wonderful job explaining how spelling should be taught to help it be most effective. As he says, "Spelling is the correct retrieval of sequentially stored, virtually random bits of information." He really does a wonderful job explaining the importance of frequency, intensity, and duration in spelling. 

We are enjoying using The Phonetic Zoo and I am quite impressed by Tabitha's recall of how to spell the words. We had gotten to the 5th lesson, which is a personal spelling lesson, and before I tested her on her trouble words, I had her spell all of the words from the previous 4 lessons. Though there was a bit of stumbling, which she was able to correct herself, she was able to spell all her words out loud to me, even the ones she struggled so much with in lesson 2. 

I do add a little bit to her lessons. I realize that worksheets are not beneficial, but to me just going down the list and taking the test repeatedly can get boring for the child, especially when it is a lesson that is tricky and is taking 10-11 times to get that 100% two times in a row. I have had Tabitha use the words in sentences or alphabetize them. Though this isn't a part of the program, I feel it is important for her to be able to use the words in context. I also think the occasional alphabetizing exercise is beneficial as she is also spelling the words an additional time. 

I would definitely recommend The Phonetic Zoo from the Institute for Excellence in Writing. It is a great program for children to learn to spell. I love the emphasis on the auditory process as it just makes so much sense. The child is focusing on one list of words until that list is mastered. This is so unlike school where a list is studied during the week and a test is taken, after which the whole class moves on, whether they are ready to or not. 

You can find The Institute for Excellence in Writing on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Vimeo, Google+, and Instagram.

My fellow Crew Mates have been reviewing various products from IEW. Besides Level A of Phonetic Zoo, some were offered Level B and other received Level C. Still other reviewed the Resource Set which includes: Timeline of Classics, Teaching With Games Set, and A Word Write Now. You can check out the other reviews by clicking the banner below.

IEW Review
Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: October 28, 2015 (w/linky) - "Photo Shoot" With Leaves and a Hat

I had a blast taking pictures of the children playing in the fallen leaves over at the park last week. I was trying to get some neat shots with the hat and it seemed to turn into this little "photo shoot."

Looking forward to seeing your Wordless (or not so wordless) Wednesday posts this week.

Tots and Me

Littles Learning Link Up: October 27, 2015 Two Sided Paper Plate Pumpkins

 Each month you will find:
  • A seasonal round-up (toward the beginning of the month)
  • A guest post featuring crafts, activities, tips, snack ideas or other early childhood topics. (toward the end of the month)
  • Posts where I share what I have been up to with my preschoolers and/or early elementary children.
Each week, I will host a link up, where you can share either what you have been up to recently, or old posts that may go with the theme.  Feel free to link up more than one post.

Each week I will continue to feature a couple of posts from those that have been linked up. 

I hope you will continue to share your wonderful posts, and I hope you will find something new to try with your child(ren).

It would be great for everyone to stop by and visit the other linked-up posts as well. Check them out, leave some comments, pin those that interest you. Let's make this a real party and socialize with each other.

What have we been up to?

Last week in our homeschool co-op preschool class I decided to focus on pumpkins. Pumpkins were on my mind as I had just finished last week's Pumpkin Fun Round Up here on Littles Learning Link Up. I needed something fun for the children to do. They were getting tired of just gluing cut up paper onto bigger pieces of paper. I decided to use a paper plate for a pumpkin craft. One side of the paper plate is the outside of the pumpkin, and the other side is the inside of the pumpkin.

Two Sided Paper Plate Pumpkins

You will need 1 paper plate per child, an orange marker, an orange crayon, white glue, pumpkin seeds, brown construction paper for stems, a small piece of green yarn, a hole punch, and a piece of white yarn to hang the pumpkin up.

First the children colored the bottom of the paper plate with the marker and the crayon. I tried to demonstrate using big sweeping motions to cover the plate quickly and give it an appearance of grooves in the pumpkin skin.

Then we glued pumpkin seeds on the inside of the paper plate. I just put drops of glue on the plate and let them go at it.

After the glue dried a bit, I flipped the plate over and had them glue the stem onto the colored side. Then we glued on the green yarn vine. When they were dry, I hole punched two holes at the top and tied on the white yarn so the paper plate pumpkin could be hung up so both sides could be seen.

Outside of the Pumpkin:

Inside of the Pumpkin:

Now onto:
Littles Learning Link Up Features

On my last Littles Learning Link Up post, there were 20 wonderful posts linked up! 
I will be picking one randomly selected post to share, plus the top clicked-on post.  

Please remember, for this to be a successful linky party, everyone needs to visit some of the other posts that are linked up. See what catches your eye, stop by, pin the post to a relevant board, and perhaps leave a comment to let the author of the blog know you have been by for a visit. I know I appreciate others commenting and letting me know they have read my posts, so I am sure others do too.

This week's Randomly Selected Post is: 

Tiny Tots Adventures shared Number Word Spider.

Here is the top clicked-on post:

Homegrown Adventures shared How To Get Your Child to Eat Their Veggies.

Join the Party!

I would love to have you join in this week! What sort of activities do you do with your young children? Do you have some favorite activities you would like to share? I invite you to link up below. I will be pinning posts on my Toddler Ideas or other relevant board, and I would love to feature some of the activities each week from what is linked up.

Please know I may share a picture from your post and link back to it, along with sharing how we used your idea in our school time. By linking up you are giving me permission to use a picture from your post. I will ALWAYS give credit and link back. Additionally, if you choose to try out any of the ideas with your child, please make sure you give credit where credit is due.

Linky will be open through Sunday night, to give me time to check out all the posts and get the Features organized. Please take the time to visit some of the other wonderful posts linked up.


Creating Our Own "Starry Night" Pictures with the Poppins Book Nook

Welcome to the October edition of Poppins Book Nook! 

I am so excited to be a part of this great book club again this year. Won't you join me for a year of book related fun.

This month's theme was: Artists

I found some great children's books about artists. The problem was, narrowing them down to see what we were going to use for this month. I decided to focus on Vincent Van Gogh which worked out really well with the unit we are on in our My Father's World Adventures curriculum. We have been learning about Jesus being the light of the world, so our science lessons have been about stars. I did not plan this, and I didn't even realize the connection until after I decided we were going to make Starry Night pictures. 

Our main focus was on 3 books:

Van Gogh and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt
Van Gogh from the Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists by Mike Venezia
Discovering Great Artists by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Kim Solga (a hands-on art instruction book)

I also took out these two books:

The Usborne Art Treasury by Rosie Dickins
Make Van Gogh's Bed by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo

We started out by reading Van Gogh and the Sunflowers. I had also taken out the book Camille and the Sunflowers: A Story About Vincent Van Gogh by Laurence Anholt. Turns out, this is the same book, just published under a different name. This is a true story from Van Gogh's life. He had gone to the south of France in search of "sunshine and bright colors." He painted Camille and his family along with many other paintings at this point in his life. However, he was unable to sell his paintings and he was ridiculed. Camille was upset at the way people treated his friend Vincent, but his father comforted him and told him one day people would love Van Gogh's paintings. The book ends by declaring that Camille's father was right and people have learned to love Van Gogh's paintings. 

I have to admit, I had forgotten about Van Gogh cutting off his ear and killing himself. This information isn't in the story, but it is in the information at the side of the last page. I was going to skip it, but it turns out my daughter had already read it, so it drew more attention to what I wanted to avoid because I then had to read it. 

After we were done reading, the girls wanted to get out the paints and make some pictures. Then, we used the book Discovering Great Artists to make our own "Starry Night" pictures. Even daddy and mommy wanted to make one.

We started out by cutting purple and blue paper into little buildings.

Then we glued them onto the bottom of our paper.

I then demonstrated how to paint the stars and the moon in the sky. We started with the darker colors.

As we radiated outward, we used lighter yellow.

Here are our finished paintings.

Don't forget to check out what the other Poppins Book Nook co-hosts have been up to this month. Then, don't forget to link up your own posts!  

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